How did 4-H influence baby names?

4-H logo ("emblem").

The 4-H youth organization was officially established by the U.S. government in the 1914. (Those four H’s come from the group’s original motto, “head, heart, hands, and health.”) The initial focus was agricultural and home economics activities, and the initial participants were rural youth.

In 1922, 4-H started hosting an annual congress at which national-level awards were bestowed. And at least two of these top-level award winners — whose names and photos often ran in the papers — had a slight influence on U.S. baby names.

The first 4-H name to debut was Clarabeth:

  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 6 baby girls named Clarabeth [debut]
  • 1935: unlisted

The second was Nawatha:

  • 1942: unlisted
  • 1941: 5 baby girls named Nawatha [debut]
  • 1940: unlisted

Both were one-hit wonders.

Clarabeth Zehring, 17, of Ohio.
Clarabeth Zehring

Clarabeth was inspired by 17-year-old Clarabeth Zehring of Germantown, Ohio. She was the national winner of the 4-H dress-making competition in late 1935. First she won in her category (“school dress”) and, along with three other category winners, received a gold wrist watch. Upon being the one chosen (out of the four) to win the national title, Clarabeth also got a solid gold medal.

Nawatha was inspired by 20-year-old Nawatha L. Krebs of Eufaula, Oklahoma. She was the female winner of the National Achievement Award (there was a male winner as well) in late 1940. She won a silver flatware set and a college scholarship.

And, check this out — I happened to find some proof that Nawatha’s name being in the newspapers had an influence on expectant parents:

About the time Nawatha was winning her 4-H award, a family in McAlester [Oklahoma] had a new baby, a girl. The mother had seen Nawatha’s picture in the paper, fell in love with the unusual name and named her baby Nawatha.

The two Nawathas later learned of one another after both had moved to California and both had tried to get a California license plate that said “NAWATHA.” The younger one, who had the idea first, got the plate. The older one was stuck with the plate “NWATHA” instead.

Which of today’s names, Clarabeth or Nawatha, do you like more? Why?


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